SEAMUS HARRIS AGAINST STUFF
Case Number: 3454
Council Meeting: OCTOBER 2023
Decision: Not Upheld
Accuracy, Fairness and Balance
Children and Young People
Conflicts of Interest
Ruling Categories: Gender
- Seamus Harris complains about a story published by Stuff on 22 March 2023 covering the impending visit of Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, also known as Posie Parker. He complained that the article breached Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance; Principle (3) Children and Young People; Principle (10) Conflicts of Interest and Principle (12) Corrections. Mr Harris said the article was biased against Ms Keen-Minshull, did not present her point of view, uncritically published negative opinions of her and was unfair in the way it linked her to Nazis. The complaint is not upheld.
- The Stuff story, What you need to know about the anti-trans activist coming to NZ covered the planned visit of Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull.
- The story noted that her recent visit to Australia was controversial, “culminating in members of the far-right giving Nazi salutes…” The New Zealand Rainbow community and MPs had spoken out against her visit to New Zealand. It said she was a “self-described transphobe”, had appeared in videos with a far-right personality and posed for a selfie with a neo-Nazi.
- She had been making headlines because of opposition to her Let Women Speak tour. The story said Keen-Minshull’s supporters saw her as a campaigner for women’s rights, as opposed to being anti-trans. But it was not just the trans community that was “in her sights” the story continued, she had also taken aim at migrant communities and called Bradford an “awful place for women” because of its high population of “Pakistani Muslims”. It quoted then Immigration Minister Michael Wood as condemning her “inflammatory, vile and incorrect world views.”
- Seamus Harris complained to Stuff about the story asking for a retraction and apology for a story that was “misinformation” and “disinformation.”
- He complained the story made no attempt to interview Ms Keen-Minshull and get her message in her own words. There were no attempts to speak to local women’s groups supportive of her message. The Minister’s statements were published uncritically. The story described her as anti-trans, when she said she had no issue with trans people and described herself as a women’s rights campaigner.
- Mr Harris said that there were numerous references to Nazis and also to “far right” associations, but no mention of the obvious fact that Ms Keen-Minshull did not endorse the views of everyone she spoke to or met. There was a list of “supposed transgressions” by Ms Keen-Minshull without context about the underlying issues she was raising.
- The article did not include Ms Keen-Minshull’s actual views which were support for a biological definition of the term woman, opposition for “biological men” in women’s spaces, and opposition to the medical transition of minors. In his final comment, Mr Harris suggested a curious journalist might have researched the varied motivations of “biological men who say they are women.”
- Media coverage of the visit was “scandalously biased” and the violence and disorder that shut down the Let Women Speak event was explained in part by stories like the one complained about.
- In his formal complaint to the Media Council Mr Harris said that the article breached Principle (1), Accuracy, Fairness and Balance. He also cited Principle (3) Children and Young People, Principle (10) Conflicts of Interest and Principle (12) Corrections. He believed the story was part of a broader pattern of coverage and statements by government ministers and officials that incited public disorder, disruption of a lawful event, violation of free speech rights and mob violence.
- Mr Harris raised concerns about funds paid to Stuff through the Public Interest Journalism Fund (PIJF). The dependence of the media on taxpayer money raised conflicts of interest. The journalist was essentially serving as a government mouthpiece, he said.
- Stuff rejected the complaint, saying that Ms Keen-Minshull’s views had already been widely documented and that a separate interview to ask about these was not necessary and as her views had been widely reported there was no need to report the views of her supporters. Mr Harris had outlined what he believed were the three main tenets of her beliefs, but Stuff said the headline made clear the story was an outline of her background, beliefs and why she was coming to New Zealand and adequate detail was included. The story was a simple explainer about Ms Keen-Minshull, not a definitive piece on gender issues, although Stuff noted it did cover the sporting issue in March 2022.
- In their formal response to the complaint, Stuff referred to the Media Council ruling 3397: Rex Landy against Stuff, which noted: “...we also consider that sufficient balance was achieved over time given the other articles published over March 2023, which focused on Ms Keen-Minshull’s visit to New Zealand, and which did include statements (or references to statements, for example, made via Twitter) made by her.” In his final response Mr Harris said this implied that the coverage was unbalanced at a certain time and the Media Council might need to consider whether this fuelled the disorder at the Let Women Speak event.
- Stuff strenuously rejected claims of influence due to funding by the PIJF, saying it adhered to its own Code of Ethics, the Media Council principles and that stories noted when a journalist’s work was funded by the PIJF. The journalist who produced the story was not funded by the PIJF.
- Stuff said it accurately quoted a statement from the Minister on a matter of public interest.
- Regarding the description of Ms Keen-Minshull as a transphobe - she had used that description of herself, including in an interview, which Stuff provided a link to. She was widely described as an anti-trans rights activist and was clear that she did not believe that trans-people should have the same rights as cis-gender people. Stuff was comfortable with the term anti-trans activist. The Media Council ruling 3397: Rex Landy against Stuff said this description was not inaccurate or unfair.
- Regarding the “supposed transgressions” Mr Harris complained Stuff had unfairly reported on, Stuff said this reporting was fair and accurate. The references to Nazis were accurate.
- Some issues raised in this complaint have been considered in previous council decisions, so they will be dealt with briefly in this decision. The issue of whether it is reasonable to describe Ms Keen-Minshull as anti-trans was discussed fully in Ruling 3397: Rex Landy against Stuff, and in Ruling 3402: Natasha Hamilton-Hart against the NZ Herald. The latter decision said it was not misleading to report her views as hostile to trans people. “Many fair and accurate labels are available to describe Ms Keen-Minshull and ‘anti trans’ is one of them.” This aspect of the complaint is not upheld.
- Mr Harris also said the story dealt unfairly with the connection between Ms Keen-Minshull and Nazis. However, there is no inaccuracy proven in the suggestion that she posed for a selfie with a neo-Nazi. The story also stated she was supported in Australia by masked men giving Nazi salutes. As stated in Ruling 3402: Natasha Hamilton-Hart against the NZ Herald, as Ms Keen-Minshull quickly distanced herself from the group it would have been fairer to find another way of describing them as supporting her. However, the neo-Nazis were there to “support” Ms Keen-Minshull. No-one gets to choose their supporters, so while it could have been written more clearly, it is not inaccurate to call them “supporters”. This aspect of the complaint is not upheld.
- Stuff firmly rejected Mr Harris’s assertion that, having received funding through the PIJF, Stuff had a conflict of interest and was acting as a government mouthpiece. The Media Council concurs with Stuff on this point and can see no evidence of the PIJF funding influencing the coverage.
- It was also entirely appropriate to quote the Minister’s views on Ms Keen-Minshull.
- Mr Harris complained under Principle (3) Children and Young People and in his final comment explained that this was relating to the medical transitioning of young people, which is not discussed in the story, so this part of the complaint is not upheld.
- The most substantive part of the complaint is under Principle (1) – that the story did not deal fairly with Ms Keen-Minshull, and the Media Council believes the issues here are less clear-cut. The overwhelming tone of the story was negative, but as set out above, there is no inaccuracy proven. However, the Council has considerable sympathy for Mr Harris’s position that it would have been fairer to have given at least a brief description of the views Ms Keen-Minshull was coming to New Zealand to promote. In a 500-word story the only reference to her views were that she was seen as a “women’s rights campaigner.”
- However the Council believes that this story falls into the category of a long-running issue as set out in Principle (1) which states in part: “Exceptions may apply for long-running issues where every side of an issue or argument cannot reasonably be repeated on every occasion and in reportage of proceedings where balance is to be judged on a number of stories, rather than a single report.” The issue of the balance or lack of balance of Stuff’s overall coverage of the visit was discussed in Ruling 3397: Rex Landy against Stuff where it was stated: “However, we also consider that sufficient balance was achieved over time given the other articles published over March 2023, which focused on Ms Keen-Minshull’s visit to New Zealand, and which did include statements (or references to statements, for example, made via Twitter) made by her.” Therefore, although the Media Council had some concerns about aspects of the story, it did not reach the threshold of a breach of Principle (1) because of other balancing material published by Stuff in March 2023.
The Media Council apologies to Mr Harris for an administrative error which saw a considerable delay in dealing with this complaint.
Decision:The complaint is not upheld.
Council members considering the complaint were Hon Raynor Asher (chair), Hank Schouten, Rosemary Barraclough, Scott Inglis, Jo Cribb, Alison Thom, Judi Jones.